Day….I’m losing count and this island isn’t helping.
We awoke early and had our usual breakfast of pancakes and coffee. Our route was decided last minute, as usual. There was a bus and direct boat to Caye Caulker in Belize, from Chetumal in Mexico so we hurried off to the bus stop.
It was a 3 hour bus ride to Chetumal, a taxi across town to the dock, a quick scan and stamp of our passports by an official, a 3 hour boat to San Pedro in Belize, another quick scan and stamp of our passports by an official, a walk across town to the other dock and then a final 30 minute boat ride over to Caye Caulker.
A brisk walk down the wooden slatted pier, lead us into a dusty street, most paved in well, just dust. We quickly got some banter from a few local golf cart taxi drivers about where to stay but we fended them off.
Cage Caulker is very hard to describe. Sleepy, came to mine in those dying hours of the day but this tiny fishing village changes it characteristics hour by hour. One thing can be said for sure though, not much happen at any speed.
And so we found ourselves jamming.
And quite frankly in love with the place.
As we walked around aimlessly, soaking in the heat and the vibe, a very tanned old man pulled up on his bike. He had grey lumps of wire like frizzy hair on each side of his head, an unruly beard slightly lighter than his hair and quite a few teeth missing.
In a creole/jamaican accent, he introduced himself as Bobby. We had met our first character. And what a character he was.
He cycled along front street with us, finding out what we wanted in a place to stay and made a few suggestions. We finally rested on a small place called Jeremiah’s Inn. The motto on the front was, ‘Arrive as guests and leave as friends’. It was very true.
We were introduced to the owner, Jim. He looked like a seriously cool cat and we grew to love his little phrases and words of wisdom. We later met Shai who worked there in the day, an amazingly friendly girl who we got to know really well, along with the scruffy resident cat, Blackie. Bobby got his cut for the introduction and then cycled off, a strange jittery character that always bumped into from then on.
We settled in and took a walk around the town to soak in the atmosphere. A laid back haven full of cheerful people, we often found ourselves humming a Bob Marley song or two. Jammin’ along, we found a cart on the edge of the road serving some bean rice, potato salad and fresh fish for about 10 Belizian bucks. A filling meal. All cooked up by Rose, a homely Jamaican lady who always gave us healthy portions along with her amazing onion and habanero spice.
When we got back, we met an Australian couple, Chris and Amy and we spent the night in the hammocks listening to Kings of Leon and exchanging travel stories while Blackie made herself comfortable in my lap and snoozed.
Later a local guy called James turned up, looking for Jim. He ended up sitting with us and sharing local town gossip and advising us on things to do. His story about Bobby was a true tragedy. James explained how once Bobby had owned a lot of estate and businesses on the island, but after losing his family in the storm, he turned to crack cocaine and eventually lost all of his wealth. Now living outside of town in a swamp, the hermit wanders town looking for tourists to help out and make his cut from any referrals or deals brokered to feed his addiction. Little did we know, this story also fell true about James himself, but we discovered that later. He left after a while and came back with some aloe vera to soothe our bites and a bag of coconuts to drink. Asking for a few bucks, we naively obliged.
By the time we had finished hearing his renditions of Shawshank Redeption and stories of his Salsa Championship win back in ’96, it was well past 3am so we said our goodbyes and hit the sack.
An amazing beginning to the island. We felt like we had an insight to it’s habitants that normal visitors would never be privy to.
The next day we woke, had breakfast and just lazed around by the split, the north part of town where the island was cut in half by hurricane Hattie. The water was warm, with an abundance of reef fish darting around us.
We didn’t really have enough will power to do anything by the afternoon and decided to try our hand at a spot of fishing with Chris and Amy. Armed with our hired poles and local tip offs, we headed to the water taxi pier off front street.
An hour passed, nothing.
So we made our way to the fishing dock off back street and tried our luck as the sun set over the Atlantic.
Again nothing. We returned empty handed, hassled by our new acquaintances and promised to wake up early and fish again by the split. The touts and dealers on main street began to know us and like us because of our little fishing trips and our time for conversation. It was a real privilege to have lived their lifestyles and got the appreciation for it.
The night was haunted by thunder and lightning. With each dazzling flash, the door shook and I drew the light covers over my head!
We soon realised it would be a wet day.
We ventured out at 6am nonetheless. Chris and Amy managed to catch a red snapper each but unfortunately me and Fawaz came back empty handed again! A friendly rivalry began and it raged all week. The storm remnants made it a wet morning but we were determined to catch something, anything. So we regrouped and headed out with fresh bait in the afternoon.
Back to the water taxi pier. Local banter made us more determined. Especially after I heard one of the guys exclaim, ‘Come talk to me when you wanna catch a reaaaal fish, boy!’
Our luck finally made a guest appearance and we caught about 5 fish off the pier. Mostly red snappers and a jack. A lot of them caught by Amy. It was the Ashes all over again, but I was keeping it in there for the team.
The walk back through town was a proud one. Flaunting our fish and strutting like we owned the place, soaking in the comments from the locals. We stoked the BBQ that Jim dug out for us. Amy prepped some veg and we all set about seasoning the fish with butter, garlic and lime before wrapping them in foil.
By this time we were all gathered in an anticipation around the fire.
Jim cooked and shared with us some fresh lobster tail and we spent the night in conversation about his boat making career through to his aspirations for Jeremiah’s. His friend Greg spent the evening with us too, telling us more stories about the island and islanders. Even James turned up briefly, even though it was to try and shark some cash off us for crack.
By the time we had heard Greg’s psychedelic progressive rock from Nigeria, seen a few magic tricks from Dexter and heard Fawaz’s abundance of riddles, it was well past 3am. With an early snorkelling start the next day, we snoozed.
We woke late and rushed down the street to meet Steve, the owner of the boat who was taking us out to the reef. A big burly Jamaican man with dreads and a humorous disposition.
The weather was perfect. The sun was glaring but a cool breeze combatted it’s negative effects. We sailed away from the island at a steady pace, with reggae streaming from the boat’s speakers.
The sun felt hot on my feet, resting on the edge of boat but the ocean spray cooled us down and eventually the sail gave us a good amount of shade. We passed a manatee, stopped and jumped in to find it, but it remained elusive. The next stop was closer to the reef and we snorkelled for a while, witnessing the beauty of this underwater palace. Schools of fish swarmed near us. It was an amazing experience.
Next up was shark alley. A natural break in the reef, with swirling currents, flashes of hot and cold water. The sharks were daunting at first but they were only nurse sharks and we soon began to trust them. The fish here were much bigger too, Jacks and Groupers along with an abundance of smaller brighter fish inside of the coral.
Touching a shark was the highlight, along with witnessing a huge turtle eating sea grass and popping up for air.
The stingray freaked me the hell out. An ethereal ghost of the sea with docile eyes and a deadly barbed tail. And yes Steve Irwin jokes we made with the Aussies, in good taste of course.
It was time to head back and a final dip in the sea by the split to cool off. A small boat ride through the split showed us the extend of the damage caused by hurricane Hattie.
We said our goodbyes to Steve and his crew.
The afternoon was spent fishing once more, but it was unsuccessful. The shame made us think twice about walking home on main street so we weaves our way through the backstreets to avoid the inevitable banter. That is when I really felt like a part of the community.
The next day we awoke at 5am to try our luck once more, as we had planned another big BBQ for the evening.
I was the only one who got lucky with a small red snapper.
It’s our last day in Caye Caulker and we have already spent more time than we had thought we would!
It’s too laid back to even contemplate leaving, the lifestyle fitting my own nature perfectly. After 5 days here, I walk down the street and find myself stopping a few times to talk to people who now recognise me and want to know what I’ve been up to. The community has taking me in. I feel consumed. I feel at home.
The final night was a fantastic send off. Jim brought crab and lobster, we stoked the BBQ and sat around a collection of tables to enjoy the feast. There were 10 of us and we felt like a large haphazard family. Goodbyes were made and I knew I was going to miss them all a lot.
But now we turn our attention to Tikal and a whole new country. It’s always hard to see the back of places you begin to love but even harder to say goodbye to the people who make it loveable.
To Jim, Shai, Bobby, James, Rose, Greg, Steve, Dexter, Sarah, Amy, Chris and even crazy old Major, I thank you.